The Wise Old Man Archetype

    The archetype of the Wise Old Man was defined and semantically interpreted by C. G. Jung, who considered it to represent knowledge, reflection, insight, wisdom, wit and intuition related to this archetype.  The Swiss psychologist distinguished the difference of the archetype of the Wise Old Man from that of the Father or Hero, discerning the tranquility, majesty and mystic of the universal figure of the Wise Old Man. He found ample examples of the form of this new archetype in tales and mythology where it is represented by the likes of sorcerers, magicians, mentors, guides, old men of the deep forests and truth seekers. Perhaps the most renowned figure of the Wise Old Man in mythology is the sorcerer Merlin from the Arthurian legends of Celtic mythology.

    Many psychologists point out that the Wise Old Man archetype is not sufficiently described and defined. For instance, the American psychologist and Jungian scholar Robert H. Hopcke is fully aware that there is a dearth of writings on the Wise Old Man that should be rectified by future authors. Jung did not attribute the archetype only to the male consciousness; he also described it in women as an embodiment of a certain aspect of their animus. This positive animus, as Jung called it, is then evident in a woman's consciousness as the power of inner wisdom and of the spirit. Yet Jung and many of his successors viewed the archetype of the Wise Old Man as a derivative of the Father archetype, hence they joined in the female consciousness this archetype with the chthonic mother (Mother Earth). I reached a different conclusion, since in my spiritual endeavors en route to the unconscious I encountered other phenomena of the archetype, which is why I was compelled to modify the content, meaning and place of the Wise Old Man archetype in the unconscious. I consider it important to separate the archetype of the Wise Old Man from that of the Father or Mother, and also to separate it from the numinous nature of God. A description of the directly seen and directly experienced must then necessarily reveal the shortcomings of the archetype initially defined by Jung. One can hardly describe any phenomenon without the necessary inner experience.

    The Wise Old Man archetype is a personification of spirit. It shows itself in the form of friends, relatives, church dignitaries, monks or spiritually powerful beings. These are individuals standing on morally higher ground and who, in their advice and example, provide spiritual support and invaluable help during the most arduous moments of spiritual development. We respect them, and their advice can plant a seed of truth in fertile soil. The spirit has no limits, which is why there can be no limitation of its personification in terms of people, beings or sexuality. It is demonstrated through intuition, inspiration, the inner voice or story. The range of the archetype's effects is infinite, just as the spirit is infinite.

The archetype of the Wise Old Man based on the way it is conveyed or personification:

  1. Intuition – inspiration
  2. Inner voice
  3. Story
  4. Powerful being
  5. Mentor
  6. Saint
  7. Spiritual personality
  8. Brother or relative

The scheme for the archetype is very simple:

  1. Moral refinement
  2. Cognition

    The archetype extends into two circles of the unconscious. The moral refinement of the Wise Old Man archetype belongs to the Circle of the Renewal Process, and cognition to the Circle of Being. The term "moral" should first be examined. I certainly do not have in mind the prim and stilted behavior of so-called moralists and puritans, who see everything black and white and who consider morality to be a narrow trench that not even they themselves fit into. I reject morality as a doctrine on good and evil, on the acceptable and unacceptable, on virtues and vices. All of these divisions are merely a division of the mind; the truth of the heart must be reached for genuine insight into the flow of life around, for true morality only comes from the heart.   Buddhism has a name for this kind of true morality: Bodhidharma. Morality must come from the heart and not from the mind so that the morality is not merely the fake veneer to which we have, unfortunately, long become accustomed in our civilization.

    This archetype appears at the beginning of the spiritual journey, soon after entering the Circle of the Renewal Process, for it is triggered by the recognition of a certain figure or inner aspect as the bearer of spiritual wisdom. If one believes in the wisdom of his inspiration or intuition, then these aspects appear in the archetype of the Wise Old Man and do not need to be personified. Wisdom has many faces and does not have to be merely a human or divine face. So often it happens that "just" the inner voice interrupts the broad earthly way down into dependency and sends one on the path of wisdom to the most beautiful realms of spiritual life. Wisdom can even be imparted by a story from which experience can be drawn and which then does not necessarily have to be experienced firsthand. Indeed, a person learns in live from the stories of others. Yet the story is the most difficult to recognize in archetypal form and often blends with compensatory dreams dealing with matters of the waking consciousness. The archetype of the Wise Old man teaches sincerity, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility, transience of the earthly, selfless love, faith and repose in emptiness – in the divine nature. Down this archetype's path I was able to wean myself off superficiality, haste, arrogance, hatred, pride, skepticism and subordination to instinctual dependencies. The archetype of the Wise Old Man miraculously transformed the egotistical tendencies of the personality and worked on the moral refinement of individuality, culminating in a mystical death – the death of the ego.  If one is blind and deaf to his own moral profile, the archetype of the Wise Old Man is in a latent state within him. Any such person is very much impoverished, for in his pride he loses the wisest, kindest and most loyal friend and advisor who never abandons him.

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